How To Prepare For An Upcoming CT Scan

Written by Tim Stout on

Knowing how to prepare for a CT scan can reduce anxiety about the procedure and increase the chances of having a fast and stress-free appointment.

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Knowing how to prepare for a CT scan can reduce anxiety about the procedure and increase the chances of having a fast and stress-free appointment.

Knowing exactly what to do before an upcoming CT scan can help you feel more relaxed and less anxious during your procedure. Coming to your appointment prepared can also help reduce the likelihood of returning to take a repeat test.

A CT scan is a painless and non-invasive way for your doctor to diagnose certain health conditions. Continue reading to learn about the steps you should take to prepare for an upcoming CT scan.

Some CT scans involve using a dye or contrast agent that allows your doctor to see your insides more clearly. Certain medications used to interact with this dye to cause side effects and adverse reactions. However, Metformin-type medications are no longer an issue unless you have inferior renal function. In those cases, we would not give IV Contrast.

Take Any Required Blood Tests

Your doctor may ask you to take a blood test at some time within days or weeks leading up to your CT scan. A blood test allows your doctor to check your kidney health. The contrast agent used during a CT scan can increase the risk of kidney damage in people who have diabetes, multiple myeloma, high blood pressure, or poor kidney function.

If your doctor asks you to take a blood test, make sure you do so before your CT scan. Blood testing may help you reduce your risk for kidney damage. It may also help your doctors learn more about your overall health so they can make adjustments to your treatment plan as needed.

Inform Your Doctor Of Any Allergies

Tell your doctor about any allergies you have, especially if you are allergic to specific medications or ingredients. Many of the dyes and contrast agents used during a CT scan contain iodine. Therefore, if you are allergic to iodine, your doctor may use a different dye that is safer for you. You could also be given a steroid medication before your CT scan to prevent an allergic reaction.

Follow Diet Guidelines

Your doctor may ask you not to consume any food for at least three to four hours before your CT scan. Foods can interact with the contrast agent to make you feel sick and nauseated.

Ask your doctor to confirm how long you should hold off on eating before your exam and whether there are certain beverages you should also avoid. You may drink fluids, including water, juice, coffee, or tea, but ask your doctor to be sure.

Dress for the Occasion

Plan to wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing to your CT scan. Choose clothing without metal snaps, buttons, or zippers, as metal objects can interfere with the CT scan and results. This includes all your jewelry, hair accessories, and anybody piercings you may have.

Other clothing items you may have to remove include:

  • Eyeglasses
  • Dentures
  • Hearing aids
  • Medication patches, such as a nicotine patch
  • Bras with underwire
  • Clothing that contains “silver technology.”

Some doctors may ask you to change into a gown for the CT scan, regardless of whether you have worn loose clothing and removed all jewelry. Before you arrive for your CT scan, ask your doctor what you should wear to your appointment.

Tell Your Doctor If You’re Pregnant

Pregnant women should not have a CT scan, as the radiation exposure could be harmful to the fetus. If you are pregnant, inform your doctor immediately, especially if an upcoming CT scan is scheduled. Your doctor can hold off on performing the CT scan until after giving birth or do other imaging tests to diagnose, monitor, or treat your current health condition.

If you think you might be pregnant but aren’t sure, take a pregnancy test or see a doctor confirm pregnancy. Hold off on having a CT scan until you know that you are not pregnant.

Pump Breast Milk Beforehand

If you are nursing, plan to pump breast milk before your CT scan and take the contrast agent. Some dyes and contrast agents can transfer into your breast milk supply and are not safe for your baby.

Ask your doctor to confirm when it is safe for you to nurse your baby after having a CT scan. It may take up to 24 hours for the contrast agent to leave your body. If so, plan to have at least a day’s worth of breast milk stored up for your baby to drink following a CT scan.

Gather Your Personal Information

Before your CT scan, your healthcare provider may need copies of your personal information and other documents. That usually includes your photo ID, health insurance card, and a form of payment like a credit card.

Also, bring a list of all the medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and over-the-counter medicines you are currently taking. Your doctor may ask you to get X-ray documents and results of other imaging tests you may have taken with other healthcare providers. In any case, ask your doctor what you should bring with you to your CT scan appointment.

Educate Yourself About Potential Risks

CT scans are generally non-invasive and present no serious risks. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), risks of having a CT scan include an allergic reaction to the contrast agent, kidney damage from the contrast agent, and radiation exposure.

The NIH reports that a CT scan exposes you to more radiation than a regular X-ray, though the risk from just one CT scan is small. However, having multiple CT scans over time may increase your cancer risk. Talk to your doctor about the risk of cancer if your treatment plan involves a series of CT scans over some time.

Relax and Relieve Anxiety Beforehand

Feeling nervous or anxious before a CT scan is completely normal and understandable, primarily if you are being evaluated for a severe condition. Before your appointment, do whatever it takes to feel more relaxed and less anxious about the procedure. Spend time with friends and family, watch a funny movie, or exercise to blow off steam. Taking steps to relieve anxiety could make your CT scan easier to cope with.

Familiarize Yourself With the Procedure

Learning more about what happens during a CT scan can help you relax and mentally prepare. Your doctor can tell you more about what happens during a CT scan based on the area of your body evaluated.

First, your doctor will provide you with a contrast agent that helps your insides show up more clearly during the CT scan. The contrast agent, or dye, may be given to you as a drink, an injection, or as an enema. Then, your doctor will have you lie flat on a table so the machine can scan your body and take images. You may also have to change into a hospital gown before the CT scan.

Your doctor may ask you to hold your breath a few times to prevent any movements that can blur the images during the procedure. Your appointment may last about 30 minutes or longer, depending on how long it takes for the contrast agent to take effect. Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor for more details about your CT scan so you can arrive at your appointment fully prepared.

Plan To Arrive On Time

Arrive for your CT scan on time, or at least 15 minutes early. That can help your healthcare provider gather the necessary documents and information, including your medical history. Arriving early will also give you extra time to take or receive the contrast agent, especially if it must be taken within a specific time frame before the CT scan.

Ask your doctor to confirm the exact time you should arrive for your appointment. Arriving early can often prevent your healthcare team from rushing into the procedure and neglecting vital details such as medications and allergies.

Mentally Prepare For the Outcome

After your CT scan, your doctor will review the results and meet with you to discuss them. CT scans are often used to diagnose a health condition, monitor a condition, or determine whether a particular treatment is working as expected.

Mentally prepare yourself for the outcome of a procedure, and do not allow yourself to feel stressed about results. Your healthcare team will work with you to properly manage and treat your condition so you can benefit from improved health and livelihood.

Tim Stout
Written By Tim Stout, Diagnostic Imaging Director
Tim Stout is Director of Diagnostic Imaging. He has been employed at LVMC in diagnostic imaging for more than 30 years. Tim has been the director since 2007. He graduated from San Diego Mesa College with both national and state certification in Radiologic Technology in 1986.